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A New Road for Electric Vehicles in ChinaBeijing is welcoming back previously blacklisted foreign battery giants in an effort to recharge its electric-vehicle industry
A Samsung SDI lithium-ion electric-vehicle battery on display at an exhibition in Seoul, South Korea. PHOTO:SEONGJOON CHO/BLOOMBERG NEWS
By Jacky Wong
Updated June 25, 2019 8:04 am ET
China is opening up a key part of its electric-vehicle industry to global competition. The move could, paradoxically, make it stronger.
Last Friday, Beijing scrapped its list of certified EV battery manufacturers, paving the way for foreign suppliers to start selling in the country again. Getting on the list when it was introduced in 2015 qualified battery makers for government subsidies that account for a significant chunk of the price of an EV. No big foreign players made the grade.
Meanwhile, domestic battery companies such as Contemporary Amperex Technology(CATL) have boomed. CATL’s revenue has quintupled since 2015, and the quality of its batteries is good enough to supply to the likes of BMW .
The list was likely to become obsolete in any case because China is phasing out EV subsidies. Yet its early retirement is a nice surprise for Korean battery makers such asSamsung SDI and LG Chem , which have manufacturing facilities in China that are currently used for exports.
China announced in March that EV subsidies will drop by at least 65% this year—effective from Wednesday this week—and there are widespread expectations those subsidies will be totally gone by next year. The subsidies have turned China into the world’s largest EV market: 1.26 million so-called new-energy cars, which include plug-in hybrids, were sold in the country last year, compared with 75,000 in 2014. But many car makers have churned out low-quality cars with substandard batteries to take advantage of the subsidies.
The government is now hoping to encourage auto makers to make not just more but also better EVs. Instead of subsidies, China is launching a credit system that works a bit like carbon-credit trading. Credits are allocated based on factors such as range or efficiency of a car. That will probably weed out the weakest EV and battery makers.
Bringing in foreign competition now could spur consolidation in the battery industry and lower EV costs after subsidies are scrapped. It will also help ensure auto makers have a sufficient supply of high-quality batteries to produce better EVs. After a few years of protection, homegrown champions like CATL are strong enough to compete with foreign rivals on a more equal footing.
Protectionism failed to create any world-beating Chinese car makers in the era of the internal combustion engine. China may do better in the electric race with a more open market.